Summary: The parable of the unmerciful servant and how it applies to believers.

As We Forgive

Matthew 18:23-35

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

In the parable, a king wanted to settle the accounts of his servants. A servant is brought in who owed the king ten thousand talents. A talent was a unit of weight and when applied to a precious metal also became a monetary value. In New Testament Judea a talent was 130 pounds. Scholars estimate a talent was 20 years wages of the average worker, and this servant owed 200,000 years worth of wages. This was used to show an incredible amount of money owed that could never be paid back. The king ordered the man, his family, and all his possessions sold to get some of that money back. The servant pleaded with the king, promising to somehow pay back everything he owed, an impossible task and all in the court knew it. But the king was so moved by his servant’s pleading that he canceled the debt. This servant then sought out, not by accident ran into but actually went looking for, and found a man who owed him money and demanded this man pay the 100 denarii owed, which comes to about 20 dollars. The man pleaded with the servant for more time to repay the debt, which the servant refused and had the man thrown in jail. When the king heard about this he had the servant brought before him. The king told the servant that he should have shown the man the same mercy that the king had shown when his debt was canceled. The king then ordered the servant thrown in jail and tortured until he could repay the debt, and while in jail the man could not work and the debt therefore could never be repaid, the servant was to be tortured for the rest of his life.

Prior to Jesus telling this parable, Jesus was instructing the people who had gathered how to deal with a person who err against them. At the end of Jesus’ instructions, Peter came to Jesus and asked Him how many times he should forgive his brother that has sinned against him, finishing the question with “Up to seven times?” Peter was asking when he should no longer be required to forgive people who trespass against him. Jesus answered by saying “I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven,” and then told the parable.

Now, are we to conclude that Jesus meant to set a limit in our forgiveness? Did Jesus tell us that we need only forgive a person only 490 times? Are we to sit around with a piece of paper making little marks to count the trespasses our brethren have committed against us? Waiting for that magic number, trespass 491, so we can tell them they have exhausted the limit of our forgiveness set by Jesus Himself. This number 490, this seventy times seven, did Jesus really mean to set a limit to our forgiveness? No, of course He didn’t. “I say not unto thee until seven times,” Jesus wouldn’t begin with such a small number nor would He want to be tied down to any definite sum. No number should show the greatness of forgiveness in the Christian heart. Jesus talked about forgiveness, but He talked about no limit, the seventy times seven being in place of a number beyond petty calculation. Usually though if we have to forgive people too many times we usually end our association with them. Can you imagine dealing with a person who you have to forgive nearly 500 times? Spouses excluded of course. Nothing but love and forgiveness should be in the heart of the Christian.

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